Monday, January 01, 2024

Writings of 2023

Each New Year's Day, I post a retrospect of the past year's writings. Here are the retrospects of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022.

The biggest project for the past few years has been my new book The Weirdness of the World, available for pre-order and scheduled for U.S. release on January 16. This book pulls together ideas I've been publishing since 2012 concerning the failure of common sense, philosophy, and empirical science to explain consciousness and the fundamental structure of the cosmos, and the corresponding bizarreness and dubiety of all general theories about such matters.


Books forthcoming:

The Weirdness of the World (under contract with Princeton University Press).
    See description above.
Books under contract / in progress:

As co-editor with Jonathan Jong, The Nature of Belief, Oxford University Press.

    Collects 15 new essays on the topic, by Sara Aronowitz, Tim Crane and Katalin Farkas, Carolina Flores, M.B. Ganapini, David Hunter, David King and Aaron Zimmerman, Angela Mendelovici, Joshua Mugg, Bence Nanay, Nic Porot and Eric Mandelbaum, Eric Schwitzgebel, Keshav Singh, Declan Smithies, Ema Sullivan-Bissett, amd Neil Van Leeuwen.
As co-editor with Helen De Cruz and Rich Horton, a yet-to-be-titled anthology with MIT Press containing great classics of philosophical SF.

Full-length non-fiction essays, published 2023:

Revised and updated: "Belief", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    A broad-ranging review of the main philosophical approaches to belief.
"Borderline consciousness: When it's neither determinately true nor determinately false that consciousness is present", Philosophical Studies, 180, 3415–3439.
    Being conscious is not an on-or-off phenomenon but has gray zones. Our failure to conceive, in a certain way, of such in-between cases is no evidence against their existence.
"Creating a large language model of a philosopher" (with David Schwitzgebel and Anna Strasser), Mind and Language [online article mila.12466, print forthcoming].
    We trained GPT-3 on the corpus of Daniel Dennett, and even Dennett experts had trouble distinguishing its answers to philosophical questions from Dennett's actual answers.
"The full rights dilemma for AI systems of debatable moral personhood", Robonomics, 4 (32).
    We might soon create AI systems where it's a legitimately open question whether they have humanlike consciousness and deserve humanlike rights. There are huge moral risks however we respond to such cases.
"What is unique about kindness? Exploring the proximal experience of prosocial acts relative to other positive behaviors" (with Annie Regan, Seth Margolis, Daniel J. Ozer, and Sonja Lyubomirsky), Affective Science, 4, 92-100.
    Participants assigned to do kind acts for others reported a greater sense of competence, self-confidence, and meaning while engaging in those acts across the intervention period.

Full-length non-fiction essays, finished and forthcoming:

"Dispositionalism, yay! Representationalism, boo!" in J. Jong and E. Schwitzgebel, eds., The Nature of Belief, Oxford.

    Presents three problems for hard-core representationalism about belief: The Problem of Causal Specification, the Problem of Tacit Belief, and the Problem of Indiscrete Belief.
"Repetition and value in an infinite universe", in S. Hetherington, ed., Extreme Philosophy, Routledge.
    Standard decision theory fails when confronted with the possibility of infinitely many consequences of our actions. Still, it's reasonable to prefer that the universe is infinite rather than finite.
"The ethics of life as it could be: Do we have moral obligations to artificial life?" (with Olaf Witkowski), Artificial Life.
    Creators of artificial life should bear in mind the conditions under which artificial systems might come to be genuine targets of moral concern.

Full-length non-fiction essays, in draft and circulating:

"The prospects and challenges of measuring morality" (with Jessie Sun).

    Could we create a "moralometer" -- that is, a valid measure of a person's general morality? The conceptual and methodological challenges would be formidable.
"The washout argument against longtermism" (commentary on William MacAskill's book What We Owe the Future).
    We cannot be justified in believing that any actions currently available to us will have a non-negligible positive influence on the billion-plus-year future.
"Let's hope we're not living in a simulation" (commentary on David Chalmers's book Reality+).
    If we are living in a simulation, there's a good chance it's small or brief and we are radically mistaken about the past, future, and/or distant things.
"Consciousness in Artificial Intelligence: Insights from the science of consciousness" (one of 19 authors, with Patrick Butlin and Robert Long).
    Some mainstream scientific theories of consciousness imply that we might be on the verge of creating AI systems that genuinely have conscious experiences.
"The necessity of construct and external validity for generalized causal claims: A critical review of the literature on quantitative causal inference" (with Kevin Esterling and David Brady).
    We develop a formal model of causal specification which clarifies the necessity of construct validity and external validity for deductive causal inference.
"Inflate and explode".
    Illusionists and eliminativists about phenomenal consciousness illegitimately build objectionable presuppositions into the notion of "phenomenal consciousness" and defeat only this artificially inflated notion. (I wrote this a few years ago and I'm undecided about whether to trunk this one or revise it.)

Selected shorter non-fiction:

"Uncle Iroh, from fool to sage -- or sage all along? (with David Schwitzgebel), in J. De Smedt and H. De Cruz, eds., Avatar: The Last Airbender and Philosophy (2023), Wiley Blackwell.

    Uncle Iroh is a Zhuangzian sage, and ordinary viewers immediately glimpse the sageliness behind his veneer of foolishness.
"Dehumanizing the cognitively disabled: Commentary on Smith's Making Monsters" (with Amelie Green), Analysis Reviews (forthcoming).
    We describe Amelie Green's experience witnessing the dehumanization of the cognitively disabled in care homes, comparing it with Smith's treatment of racial dehumanization.
"Introspection in group minds, disunities of consciousness, and indiscrete persons" (with Sophie R. Nelson), Journal of Consciousness Studies, 30 (2023), #9-10, 288-303.
    We describe a hypothetical AI system that defies the usual sharp lines between cognitive systems, conscious experiencers, and persons.
"Quasi-sociality: Towards asymmetric joint actions with artificial systems" (with Anna Strasser), in A. Strasser, ed., How to Live with Smart Machines? (forthcoming), Xenemoi.
    AI systems might soon occupy the gray area between being asocial tools and being real, but junior, social partners.
"AI systems must not confuse users about their sentience or moral status", Patterns, 4 (2023), #8, 100818.
    AI systems should be designed to either be clearly nonsentient tools or (if it's ever possible) clearly sentient entities who deserve appropriate care and protection.
"How far can we get in creating a digital replica of a philosopher?" (with Anna Strasser and Matt Crosby), in R. Hakli, P. Mäkelä, J. Seibt, eds., Social Robots in Social Institutions: Proceedings of Robophilosophy 2022. Series Frontiers of AI and Its Applications, vol. 366 (2023), IOS Press.

"Don't make moral calculations based on the far future", The Latecomer (Dec 19, 2023).

    An epistemic critique of "longtermism".

"Could the Universe Be Finite? (with Jacob Barandes), Nautilus (Dec 15, 2023).

    Well, probably not.

"Is it time to start considering personhood rights for AI chatbots?" (with Henry Shevlin), Los Angeles Times (Mar 5, 2023).

    Reflections on the hazards of confusion about the moral status of AI systems

Science fiction stories

"Larva, pupa, imago", Clarkesworld, issue 197, (2023).

    The life-cycle and worldview of a cognitively enhanced future butterfly.

Some favorite blog posts

"The black hole objection to longtermism and consequentialism" (Apr 13).

"'There are no chairs' says the illusionist, sitting in one" (Apr 24).

"We shouldn't 'box' superintelligent AIs" (May 21).

"The fundamental argument for dispositionalism about belief" (Jun 7).

"The Summer Illusion" (Jul 10).

"One reason to walk the walk: To give specific content to your assertions" (Sep 8).

"Percent of U.S. philosophy PhD recipients who are women: A 50-year perspective" (Nov 3).

Happy New Year!

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